One of my father’s favourite answers to any dreaded “How long?” question is a quickly-retorted, “How long is a piece of string?” It seems like an appropriate, albeit frustrating, response to the conundrum of what is the length of time sweet-spot for a meeting. But there are some significant benefits to be gained by reflecting on it in advance.
A well-considered length for a meeting can assist in:
Setting and managing expectations for attendees on the time they need to commit and the detail that is expected for the agenda items;
Avoiding ‘dead time’ at the beginning of a meeting to get them focused faster;
Providing a tool to hold teams accountable to the agenda and to help keep discussions from getting bogged down in arguments or going off on tangents;
Avoiding running out of time to get through the planned agenda but giving the host a rough outline of time for each item.
Is there a perfect length of time for a meeting?
Too short? You won’t be able to get decisions made and can force decisions to be rushed without adequate consideration. Interestingly, people may be less likely to come to a “quick meeting”, recognising the risk of the inevitable time creep.
Too long? Often results in void filling debates, irrelevant conversations and a tendency for distractions. It can also encourage people to be late to the meeting, concluding that there is plenty of time and it won’t start on time anyway. Beyond a certain point, expanding the time doesn’t expand the quality of the results and people will get the itch to check their phones! It’s a balancing act.
So is there a “Goldilocks” time for a meeting – the “just right” length?
Obviously, it will depend on your agenda, but rule of thumb is that 30 minutes is the best length. It shows respect for people’s time and realistically, people’s attention spans cannot stretch much longer, especially in these days of online distractions. Some agenda items take longer so consider chunking your meetings into smaller, bite-sized pieces to fit into the Goldilocks Time.
As one of my first mentors taught me, try to under-promise and over-deliver. Set a realistic agenda, reflect on the time required and then decide how best to break it down into manageable sized meetings, going back over the earlier ingredients of an effective meeting to determine the best approach. Then pleasantly surprise your attendees by completing the agenda in advance of the promised time and watch their attentiveness and focus in your meetings increase.
- Bec Ordish